Sketch club


Dear Artist,

A few blocks north of the Washington Square Arch in New York’s Greenwich Village stands the last surviving brownstone on lower Fifth Avenue, at Number 47. Built in 1853 as the residence of the first president of the Pennsylvania Coal Company, the house changed hands a few times after his death and then fell into disrepair. Eventually, it became a boarding house. In 1917, the members of a flourishing art club, having outgrown their nearby 12th Street rental, bought the house for $75,000 with a plan to pay off the mortgage with painting sales. They did it in just five years.


“In the Clouds”
oil painting by Carl Rungius (1869-1959)

Forty years earlier, a group of art students gathered at sculptor Johnathan Scott Hartley’s studio in the village for a sketch class. Soon, they’d committed to weekly sessions and crits. They called themselves The New York Sketch Club, but ultimately took on the name Salmagundi — like the stew or salad — inspired by Washington Irving’s lively, early 19th Century satirical essays called The Salmagundi Papers. It wasn’t long before the club’s few dozen artists were publishing illustrations in Scribner’s and Harper’s, had produced a portfolio of etchings and were showing nationally and overseas.


“On The Shoulders of Giants” 1923
oil painting by N.C. Wyeth

One hundred and forty-six years later, the Salmagundi Club endures through the ebb and flow of artistic, aesthetic and economic history. Maintaining a philosophy to judge work based on sound and academically measurable standards, the club has, at times, lead American Art’s vision and direction. During other periods, including the explosions of Abstract Expressionism and American Modernism, it was left to murmur in the shadows with whittling funds and quiet attendance. Today, it hangs tough — on behalf of American Realism and all else which pours from the studios of New York and beyond. Historical members N.C. Wyeth, Carl Rungius, Maynard Dixon, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase and an honorary member, a hobby painter named Winston Churchill, have boosted its private handle: “The most artistic association in the country.”


oil painting by Maynard Dixon (1875-1946)



PS: “The first quality that is needed is audacity.” (Winston Churchill)

“Never join an organization.” (Georges Braque)

“I sent the club a wire stating, ‘Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.’ ” (Groucho Marx)


“At the Florist” 1889
oil painting by Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

Esoterica: A hundred years since the purchase of 47 Fifth Avenue, now a designated historical landmark, you can still climb its stoop and cruise the halls, parlours and galleries, hung in every nook and corner with current and historic prizewinners and future visionaries. With a current member roster of around 900, it offers what most any sketch club, big or small, does across the planet: an art library, drawing classes, demos, talks and panels, concerts, juried shows, fundraising auctions, scholarships, criticism, discourse and fellowship. We are not alone. The Salmagundi Club, the oldest in America, also happens to have a surprising collection of used painter’s palettes. “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” (Winston Churchill)


Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“After you’ve painted a couple of thousand paintings, then you can begin.” (Carl Rungius)



  1. Lovely place to visit, loads of amazing history (as noted above). However, it’s pretty expensive to join, and unfortunately the staff and members are not exempt from some New York private club snobbery….
    Most of the time it’s a pleasure to be there, some times…not

  2. Selma F. Blackburn on

    It is also the display venue of the prestigious American Watercolor Society’s Annual Juried exhibition annually.

  3. Do they (schools) teach how to draw anymore ? I was an invited guest lecturer in Berkeley, California a few years ago.. and was giving a drawing demonstration. Most of the young students were amazed , watching me make a drawing. They never saw anyone draw in person before. YOU SEE ALL THESE DRAWINGS TRAINED TO USE PHOTSHOP on the computer, Photoshop can take one line and create 9 different style drawing styles in 30 seconds !!!

    These students have instructors that never learned how to draw and their teachers did not know how to draw either .

    Easier to use photoshop on the computer and digital to create paintings labeled “Digital Art than to study art at an art school, university art department of college art department . Members of LinkedIn take pride that they are artists and are self taught . Why there is much amateur art posted on Linkeded and members bragging they are the next Jackson Pollack that can throw paint on the canvas on the floor .

    Yes , there are many art books featuring Digital Art. The Super realism is indeed incredible in portraits and illustrations . Many memberds on LinkedIn, brag they saved money not going to art school …end product is a NEA grant from the USA Government for “PISS CHRIST ” a crucifix in a jar of urine .

  4. Yes Harry, people do teach traditional drawing skills. I did it for 37 years. But I agree that it is not as valued as it once was.
    The Andres Sorrano affair was 30 years ago. I seriously doubt the NEA board that awarded him a grant (and no it wasn’t for that piece of work)is still in charge.

  5. Thanks for this. There’s a generational shift away from in-person meetings and hand produced art towards social media, on-line networking and computer-based art. As a member and officer of more than one traditional arts societies that are currently struggling to breathe, it’s always inspirational to see others succeed. As our community of art painters ages, we find it exceedingly difficult to maintain our traditional volunteer base, and to attract younger members (even when we provide free membership and scholarships for young artists). Our local economy is also still in recession, businesses downsizing and local galleries closing or converting to coffee shops. The way forward is rarely as clear as the way back, but history still provides ways of thinking about the future.

    • Your art society sounds like it’s in the same situation as ours here in Pennsylvania. Where are you located? We struggle to get volunteers (we are an all volunteer group) and are also trying to figure out how to attract younger members. Maybe we should put our heads together and swap ideas.

  6. Sara, the Philadelphia Sketch Club is the oldest artist organization in the United States. It is older than Salmagundi. It’s founders were artists, instructors and students from PAFA. You might want to do an article about them as their history is just as rich as Salmagundi’s and they have a cross membership between the two organizations. Eakins and NC Wyeth were members, to name a few.

  7. Just saw a “Fake or Fortune” episode on TV, where a painting that might have been done by Winston Churchill was investigated. One comment, by the curator of Churchill’s paintings at Chartwell, was that the figures were too good to have been done by Churchill – apparently he was not known for his figures! If it could be proven to be by Churchill the painting was worth around 200,000 pounds. If not, around 200 pounds. How depressing that association with a famous name was more important than the work itself.

    • Vida Newington on

      It would be really interesting to know what other art groups there are around the country and when they were founded. I belong to one here in Nanaimo B.C. Canada that was founded in 1947 just 70years young. We are thriving with a an active membership of 30 and have a wait list. there are still plenty of people out there who have a desire to learn basic skills and haven’t been seduced by the completely digital methods. We offer workshops,critiques, small challenges, annual exhibitions, and of course fellowship and encouragement.

  8. Maynard Dixon always gets me. Haven’t figured it out, but his paintings have magic. Rungius and Wyeth aren’t bad, either.

    Much can be done on a local level, if not at those dissying heights, by establishing local sketching clubs, classes, and exhibits. You can tear your hair out at the lack of professionality, but in the meantime (outside of golf dates), they are producing art as best they can. Spreading the love of art around. And slowly, if they attend the sessions and take the classes, they get better, too.

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